A leading modernist from Sudan, Kamala Ibrahim Ishag’s six-decade-long artistic practice has profoundly influenced Arab and African modern art scenes. Her early career operated within the ethos of the Khartoum School, known for carving an artistic identity for the newly independent nation by evolving a hybrid visual vocabulary that merged Arabo-Islamic and African elements and motifs. In 1976, Ishag cofounded the Crystalists group, challenging the ethos of the male-dominated Khartoum School. The Crystalist Manifesto, published in the influential Al-Ayyam newspaper, called for a new post-modern aesthetic premised on transparency, diversity and existentialist theory.
Despite essaying such foundational roles, Ishag refuses to be defined by any singular movement or style, experimenting, instead, with different painterly strategies, styles, subjects and techniques. Her work often features mythology, storytelling, the communal experiences of women and local histories, ranging from the prehistoric to the Christian and Islamic eras. Ishag is known for her paintings of women, often with distorted faces and figures, combined with plants and other organic elements. She uses dark and muted tones, visually reflective of the Sudanese urban landscape and natural environment. She was inspired by the figurative paintings of Francis Bacon and had an interest in painter and poet William Blake’s exploration of spirituality and incarnation; the latter resonates with Ishag’s own contemplation of Zar, Sudanese women healing and spirit possession rituals. Ishag has also collaborated with Sudanese poets, writers and scholars, creating cover designs and illustrations for their publications, through which has practice has gained wider appeal.
Ishag’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions at institutions such as Serpentine South, London (2022); Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam (2019); Sharjah Art Foundation (2016-2017); Galérie de l’Institut francais de Khartoum (2015); and Shibrain Art Centre, Khartoum (2014). She has also participated in group exhibitions at Lahore Biennale (2020); Saatchi Gallery, London (2018); Royal Society of Fine Arts, Jordan (2002); Sharjah Art Museum (1995); Whitechapel Gallery, London (1995); National Museum of Women in Art, Washington, DC (1994); and Camden Art Centre, London (1969), among others. She was the 2019 Principal Prince Claus Laureate. Her work is in the collection of the Sharjah Art Foundation and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
Ishag graduated from the College of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum (1963) and studied mural painting at the Royal College of Fine Art, London (1964-1966). She served three decades as a tenured professor of the College of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum.
Born in 1939 in Omdurman, Sudan, Ishag lives and works in Khartoum.
Depicting scenes of women’s lives in the earthy tones of the sun, sand and sky, the work of painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishag has historically challenged the traditional male perspective of art in Sudan.